"There's nothing wrong with the blueberry pie," declares Jeremy (Jude Law) at the beginning of Wong Kar Wai's first English-language film, My Blueberry Nights. "It's just no one wants it." Jeremy's talking about himself, a little, to his new friend Elizabeth (Norah Jones). She, heartbroken, has been self-medicating with slice after slice of the titular, circular foodstuff, and Jeremy is clearly smitten from word one. It's a wonderful opening, so it's sort of a shame that the movie doesn't live up to these first few scenes.
Wong is a messy, unapologetic romantic, which means that he's much more interested in relationships than in bodies. (The film is rated PG-13 not for sex, of which there is none, but for smokin', drinkin', and a little cussin', most of which takes place in a bar.) His movies, then, are pretty subtle, and this dessert-centric story of a girl (Jones) running away from love is no exception. Unfortunately, this makes Wong's understanding of American culture-which isn't hostile, just unnuanced-grate like a little piece of eggshell in a spoonful of custard.
Consider, for example, the excruciating scenes with miscast Brit Rachel Weisz. No power on earth can make her into a trashy Memphis bar babe, but there she is, hamming it up next to newly Southern David Strathairn (who fares a lot better). Natalie Portman gets into similar trouble as a magnetic, unstable gambler.
But enough about the bad. When Elizabeth finally finds love, Wong treats us not to softcore porn but to extreme closeups of cake. Longing kisses are intercut with the lovingly shot contours of a slice of cake flooding with melted ice cream. Sometimes there's mousse. It's a perfect, grown-up way to display physical love without literalizing it, and it makes for a couple of show-stopping moments.
Given Wong's facility in these scenes, there's a lot of hope for a great American career for a great Chinese filmmaker. This isn't his usual masterful souffle, though-just his first batch of slightly burned cookies from his new kitchen.